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12:02 pm: Get Your Death Out of My Flowers!
Time was when the Romance section of the bookstore was a safe and cozy retreat from all things unfrivolous. Sure, there might be an occasional gothic or mystery romance with a terrifying moment, but one could basically rely on the fact that any book you took off the shelves would be sugar and like, like standing in the confectionary section of a bakery.
 
Not anymore.

First, came the statistic that more Romance books sell than any other single genre (approx. 34% of books sold.) Then, came the statistic that Romance readers are the only people who come in the bookstore who browse other genres. Mystery readers only go to the mystery section. Fantasy readers only go to the fantasy section. But Romance readers will pick up books from other genres.
 
Then came the idea of paranormal romances. They had had these for years, but they were usually bad. Romance writers were not necessarily good at writing space opera or making up a fantasy world. The stories might appeal to Romance readers, but they did not appeal to the readers of the alternate genre.
 
Until someone came up with the idea of having genre writers write romances.
 
Suddenly, there came a paranormal romance explosion.
 
Where there used to only roses and Almack’s, suddenly there was elves, demons, werewolves, Greek Gods, vampires, and, yes, even robots. (Robots yearning for human love!)  About the same time, another brand of book appeared as well, a more erotic type of novel that previously probably would have gone in literature, with more encounters and not necessarily a happy ending.
 
This was mildly disturbing, but it was all still pretty and pastel, and one still got pretty much the same fare.
 
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not objecting to supernatural romances. In fact, I think they are almost inevitable. Romance, as a written genre, relies on two things that are hard to find in the modern age:
1) Taboos to break (such as “no daughter of mine will ever speak to a McCormmack” or “No unmarried woman must ever appear outside without her lady’s maid”)
 
2) Imbalance of power (the man is usually a lord or a pirate or a Viking, while the girl is a slender maid – though with an adventurous heart – who lives at home pining freedom and love.)
 
Well, let me tell you, it is HARD to find those things in the modern age! We have very few taboos, and our men and women are basically equal.  It’s a dry desert out there for Romance writers, let me tell you. True there are contemporary romances, but they never seem, to me at least, to have the sparkle of their historical cousins.
Enter the paranormal man! He’s dark; he’s powerful; he’s sexy; and he has taboos and inequality of power galore! He’s so powerful, he could kill you with a kiss – if he doesn’t hold himself back, and as to taboos…well, he’s supernatural! The author can invent as many as she likes: can’t face the sunlight, can’t come out on the full moon, can’t talk to mortals, can’t this, can’t that, and can’t the other!
 
Well, all this is very well and good, so far…then, the vampires took over.

One day, it was demons, elves, gods, and vampires. The next day, it was nearly all vampires. Every third book on the shelf seemed to be a romance between a vampire and a mortal woman.
 
Now, what’s wrong with this, you ask? Well, putting the fact that I really hate vampires aside, I’m as aware as the next gal of the appear…who could watch the old version of Vampire Hunter D and not swoon at the scene where the main-character girl comes out of the shower and hugs him, and D has to hold back his fangs? Now, that, Ladies, is romance at its finest!
 
Except…that, suddenly, every third book in the Romance section has the world Death, Dead, or Dying in the title.
 
So, I’m going along looking at Simply Love and No Man’s Mistress (which just so happen to be titles by my favorite Romance writer) and the next thing I know, it’s as if I’ve been catapulted into the hardest-core section of Mystery mixed with the darker side of Fantasy. Completely gone are all hints of hearts and roses…in fact, it is as if I have stepped from Romance into Horror.
 
The result being that I went home without a book.
 
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against the horror/romance crossover genre. As I said above, it’s not hard to see what the appeal is. In fact, the problem – in my mind – with most horror novels is that nothing changes for the better. If it’s a romance, you can be pretty sure that by the end, the horrible monster will be changed for the better. I’m all about that! It’s right up my alley.*
 
I just wish they would shelve them somewhere else. Give the books with DEATH in the title their own shelf at the end of Romance, just like the series get their own shelf at the end of SF/Fantasy.
 
Kind of runes one’s appetite for flowers and chocolate to find blood dripping on them.
 
* See post below.
 
 

Comments

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From:kokorognosis
Date:May 12th, 2007 09:06 pm (UTC)
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It's all part of the Vampire Plague. (Also known as The Grinding Into The Dust Of All Things Cool.)

Vampires are the elves of the undead; immortal, suave, charming, witty... So people love them. And so they get run into the ground until half of us won't touch them anymore.

I was noticing this the other day, wandering through the speculative fiction section at B&N; half of the shelves feature photoshopped images of vampirica. Slender feminine throats with a single drop of blood, etc.

Bah. Gimme back my space opera.
[User Picture]
From:cjmr
Date:May 12th, 2007 09:57 pm (UTC)
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Right after I read this, we went off to do errands and I was browsing the 'book' section of the grocery while the kiddos were picking out mother's day cards for me. You're right! One-third of the romance novels had vampires on the cover and another third had 'die', 'dead', or 'death' in the title. I wonder what percentage of the rest had S&M in them, which seems to be another recent trend in 'romance' novels (and one of the reasons I quit reading them).
From:crumjd
Date:May 14th, 2007 03:58 pm (UTC)

Not much for the vampire lovin' myself

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Well, I'm a guy so I can't say I understand romance from the female point of view to start with. BUT I can heartilly second the "enough with the vampires" sentiment. I'm soldering through Kim Harrison's, "A Few Demons More" and the whole book can be summarized as 200 pages of angst filled whining by the main character (who even refers to her own thoughts as angst at one point) about which of a group of messed-up-in-the-head vampires she should date.

Answer: none of them. They're all insane, and they aren't getting better. You'd find better romantic leads at the methadone clinic.

But, on the subject of beauty and the beast, here's something interesting. They're also writing werewolf romances now. And, apparently, werewolves make much better boyfriends then vampires! They aren't dark, dangerous, and unstable. They mostly seem to be fairly gentle family men who's only drawback is they get cranky if you won't let them hang out with their friends and go camping once a month. The consistency of that characterization is what surprises me. But I guess it says something about the outlook of the author who writes romances about creatures of the night vs the one who writes about a guy who changes into a big puppy-dog at the full moon.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 14th, 2007 04:28 pm (UTC)

Re: Not much for the vampire lovin' myself

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A friend just read his first Kim Harrison book and had similar complaints. (He prefers Jim Butcher, so I'm currently reading his copy of Fool Moon.)

Funny that werewolves would be nice guys. I've never found werewolves particularl interesting, but I can imagine that, done well, they could be rather cool heroes. (Lupin's such a sweetie...except when he's fighting the red wolf rage!)
From:crumjd
Date:May 14th, 2007 05:42 pm (UTC)

Re: Not much for the vampire lovin' myself

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A friend just read his first Kim Harrison book and had similar complaints. (He prefers Jim Butcher, so I'm currently reading his copy of Fool Moon.)
Huh - I started "A Few Demons" threw it down in disgust, read the first 8 book of the Dresden Files, and only started in on Harrison's book again when I ran out of the Butcher stuff.
Funny that werewolves would be nice guys. I've never found werewolves particularl interesting, but I can imagine that, done well, they could be rather cool heroes.
Butcher's werewolves are brilliant, but his skill seems to lie in creating an internal logic that can harness all the desperate mythological elements together in a consistent way. I think Patricia Briggs does their personalities best in Moon Called.
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From:dirigibletrance
Date:May 14th, 2007 06:19 pm (UTC)

Re: Not much for the vampire lovin' myself

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Yes! Harry Dresden is the man! After the horror of the Anita blake books (I read two of them...) the Dresden files has restored my sanity and faith that there is, in fact, still good modern fantasy being written.

And there is, occasionally, a little bit of romance in Harry's life. And lots of taboos. He's not allowed to tell anybody about the White Council, even other supernaturals! (Although, somehow, he always ends up doing so, out of necessity's sake.)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 14th, 2007 06:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Not much for the vampire lovin' myself

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I Loved the first seven Anita novels. They were sometimes too horrific for me (not a fan of horror,) but I liked the mysteries, the characters, etc...

Then, they just fell apart.

It makes me sad that they are doing so well, because if they fell in popularity the author would have to work again and make them a real story.
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From:dirigibletrance
Date:May 15th, 2007 07:23 am (UTC)

Re: Not much for the vampire lovin' myself

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Well, when I spoke of horror, I meant horribly bad writing. I didn't think they were all that scary. Of the two I read, I liked one. (Bloody Bones). I hated the other (The Lunatic Cafe) because it was basically just dressed up porn writing. I did some research and found out that, basically, all her books are like that, especially the more recent ones, so I swore off from reading her stuff anymore.

In a way, what she's doing makes sense. If it's just a job to her, then she's doing her job: giving the consumers what they want. Vamnpire Porn. Lots of it. The sadness lies in the fact that A) She's a writer who just thinks of it as a job, and B) That's what people want.

Come to think of it, B is more depressing than A. Laurell K. Hamilton would not be writing the kind of books she does if people weren't buying them.
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From:arhyalon
Date:May 15th, 2007 12:43 pm (UTC)

Re: Not much for the vampire lovin' myself

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Oh, I agree! (About B being worse than A.)

In the first 5 to 7 books, Anita was a good Catholic virgin trying to pick between to guys. I liked those books, and I liked the part that she was killing the monsters (well, except for the two that she was dating.)

What makes me sad is that Laurell K. Hamilton says she decided to write erotica because her editors told her a woman could not sell books like that. The Anita books have gotten bad and the Sex With Elves books are even worse...they never had a plot.

Worst of all, the erotica isn't even good! It was fine as erotica when there was plot, but without plot and character development (that she used to be good at) it's just...bleh.
[User Picture]
From:headnoises
Date:May 17th, 2007 06:09 am (UTC)

Re: Not much for the vampire lovin' myself

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Heh, nice to see some other folks who thought it went wrong....

I didn't mind that she'd left the Catholics so much, even though I did a bit of sighing-- seriously, "the mean Catholics had this hateful view and didn't let me do what I wanted" is overdone-- but I enjoyed the first few books. It was interesting to see what was happening, and a few books in it occured to me that it could even be viewed as a downward spiral that started when she first chose her desires over the Church.

About a book after that, I realized it had turned into pr0n, and that I was skipping half a chapter at a go. I'm not much for reading love scenes-- it feels like peeping, honestly-- but for the love of all, I got embarrased imagining WRITING some of that stuff!

Then I found Harry D. the Wizard, and just adored it. ;^)
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From:kalquessa
Date:May 14th, 2007 04:42 pm (UTC)
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Very interesting take on the Romance genre...you make me almost want to go visit the hearts and flowers section, myself! Of course the last time I visited, I ended up having the worst fit of church giggles ever because I unluckily stumbled upon a book that contained just the most hilarious love scene ever, with the quivering and so forth.

I think mosellegreen wrote something very insightful about gothic romance versus gothic horror a while back, but I cannot now recall what exactly it was or when she posted. Said something very pithy about how in gothic romances Beauty tamed the Beast and married him, while in gothic horror Beauty ended by killing him. Or something, my memory's like a sieve these days.

(P.S. Am friending you because you seem to be at least as amusing a blogger as your esteemed husband, and I can always use more amusing people for the Friendslist.)
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From:arhyalon
Date:May 14th, 2007 06:54 pm (UTC)
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My first introduction to steamy romance scenes in romance novels was when a friend's boyfriend picked up Skye O'Malley and started reading it as if it was an advice manual...very funny! I still chuckle when I see Beatrice Small books in the bookstore.

I friended you, too, because my husband told me that it is polite to friend people who friend you. ;-)
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From:lilliew
Date:May 16th, 2007 06:54 pm (UTC)
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Found you via johncwright and mosellegreen

As a long timer reader, especially of romance, I 100% agree. I liked the occasional vampire romance but it got old quick. Then started the fantasy/supernatural stories that just got too bizarre for my tastes (and I like fantasya. It's been too hard to find something more of my liking with all the other stuff mixed in between. Even with Silhouette and Harlequin which tend to have too many stories about single women with children or rich spoiled Hollywood-good-looks career woman (i.e. Mary Sue) who meets rich bad boy who romances her.

The old fashioned good normal/not perfect girl meets boy type of romances seem to have disappeared or are hard to find.

Which is probably why I gravitate to female fantasy authors who tend to write more romance in their books, since they sometimes seem closer to the old romance books, coincidentally.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 16th, 2007 07:16 pm (UTC)

Fantasy and Romance

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I keep hoping that either A) the fad will fade a bit, (don't mind if its there for those who enjoy it, just not so -- everywhere-- )or B) some method of filtering will become available.

A site where one rated romances on what one liked that then told you what other readers who liked those books liked might work. ;-)
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From:carbonelle
Date:May 18th, 2007 11:54 pm (UTC)
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My favorite vampire romances (and there aren't many) are Tales of Redemption. What makes them work is the notion that a man's virtue is not a mere accident of his physical being. A good man, having been made a vampire, won't cease trying to be good, even if it neccessitates his "throwing myself on a handgrenade to save the others" death (Silver Kiss) or self-abnegation (Twilight and Peeps).

In fact, these stories have some of the most interesting heroes ever: real moral struggles that rage, titanic, within the heroes own breast.

The glut of vampire-stories would be more the thing if only their authors hadn't sucked Modern Morals from their muse-mothers tit.
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